The Space in Between: How Developing Neutral Thinking Can Bring Us More Contentment
By Lisa King, Ed.S, LPC, CPCS, CCTP
When we are not “happy” most often we think something must be wrong. Our minds will race and wander, churning up thoughts that ultimately push us toward thinking negatively. Alas, this mentality leaves little room for what lies in the middle. The space between happiness and sorrow, joy and pain. This is our neutral space. Feeling neutral, okay or just fine is undervalued in our society. Remaining neutral or turning a negative thought into one that is neutral, seems foreign to many. “Think happy thoughts” we are told. “Be more positive”, they say. However, this approach is inauthentic because it is not very realistic. Going from negative to positive is a big leap, but going from negative to neutral is more attainable. If we can turn our mindset to the space in between, we are much more likely to find contentment, peace and perhaps even positivity. I frequently remind clients that every occurrence is neutral, until we put meaning and emotion to it. Our life experience, spiritual perspective, temperament, and health will inevitably shape our emotions. Even the weather, current season, or time of day can determine the meaning we obtain. A tornado can be terrifying to someone in its path, exhilarating to a storm chaser or simply a “weather event” to a meteorologist.
Our thoughts really do help create our reality.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health struggles in the United States, affecting 18% or approximately 40 million adults. Although anxiety disorders are very treatable, only 36% of those diagnosed actually get treatment. Many who struggle with anxiety disorder also battle depression. Given enough time to ourselves we are more likely to think ourselves into a funk or a high-speed worst-case scenario thought train. Consciously bringing our thoughts back to center can help maintain a more even keeled mindset, and we are then less likely to become anxious or depressed. Neutral thoughts can effectively help us manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Pay attention to your thoughts.
We have a running dialogue in our mind all day long. While we cannot always control the thoughts that come up, we can control what we do with those thoughts. “Are my thoughts mostly negative?” Many would say yes. Intentionally tracking your thoughts, and then turning those negative thoughts to something more neutral is the goal. For example, if the thought that arises is, “I always make dumb decisions”, the neutral thought might be “I didn’t think this through very well” or “I made a mistake this time, but I can learn from it”. Our inner dialogue and negative thinking are habits. In order to change a habit, we must be intentional about making small changes that we can consistently adhere to. From this neutral space you will find it much easier to maintain what the Buddhists call equanimity and have the ability to work from a space of possibility instead of limitations. When we limit ourselves to only happy or some form of not happy, we close off the opportunity to flow through a state of balance, compassion and peace.
Paths to the space in between
How do I cultivate a more neutral mindset? As mentioned earlier, tracking your thoughts and consciously making an effort to reframe those thoughts into something more neutral is an effective way to find this middle space. Research also indicates that the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation prayer can also be highly beneficial in creating a calmer, more centered mindset. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can assist with an array of conditions both physical and mental. Research done with functional MRI’s show that the brain actually changes its activity in the amygdala, where our fight or flight instincts stem from, when subjects regularly used mindfulness meditation. Before and after MRI scans of the research subjects showed a significant reduction in activity in this area of the brain after 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation training. To begin to practice mindfulness meditation, start by sitting quietly and focusing on your body. Pay attention to the feelings that arise, be curious about those feelings without attaching to them. Next allow your thoughts to come up, but again, don’t attach to them, allow them to be what they are. Some people find it helpful to incorporate a visualization of their thoughts such as clouds passing by, waves in the ocean, or bubbles popping. All of this sounds much easier than it is for most of us. Practice and consistency are the key. There is also a variety of mobile apps and Bluetooth wellness devices available to assist with learning and practicing mindfulness meditation, as well as some that also help track heart rate, deep breathing, focus and relaxation.
Neutral is not apathy, it is openness.
Not attaching to an emotion, thought, situation, outcome, or mood, and maintaining some sense of neutral will allow us the space to reflect and respond more appropriately. It is normal to think and feel when things happen. It is what you DO with those thoughts and feelings that matter. Don’t try to put a happy face on a sad day. When we resist things, we wind up making them bigger. Detachment or non-attachment is simply letting go of our outcomes and expectations. By being selective about using emotion energy we are better able to make choices that will bring us a better sense of inner peace. Some things we cannot control. Accepting what we cannot control and paying attention to what we can will make a big difference in finding a more neutral attitude. Letting go does not mean we don’t care, it is simply realizing that we only have control over so much. Remembering that everything is temporary, including emotions, will help free us from the prison of whimsical thoughts and feelings. Thoughts, feelings and emotions are like passing clouds or cars on the highway. Deciding to find a place in the middle will help us find more joy and feel less pressure to “be happy.”
Lisa King, Ed.S., LPC, CPCS, CCTPis a Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice in Carrollton, GA. She is a graduate of the University of West Georgia’s Psychology and Counselor Education programs. Her specialties include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, life transitions, trauma and self-harm. Lisa is a Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She has been on the Board of Directors for the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of GA (LPCA-GA) since 2012. She is the current President of LPCA-GA for the 2018-19 term. Visit to find out more about Lisa and her work.